RTW: If I were head of curriculum…

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where the ladies at YA Highway post a weekly writing- or reading-related question for participants to respond to on their own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.

Today’s Topic: In high school, teens are made to read the classics – Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Bronte, Dickens – but there are a lot of books out there never taught in schools. So if you had the power to change school curriculums, which books would you be sure high school students were required to read?

First, there are several classics I’d most definitely keep on the list: Romeo and Juliet, The Odyssey, 1984, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Diary of Anne Frank, A Separate PeaceFahrenheit 451… These are all amazing books that (in my opinion) will always be relevant.

More contemporary books I’d add to the list if I were head of curriculum (blurbs from Goodreads):

Looking for Alaska by John Green – Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps.” Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult – Sterling is an ordinary New Hampshire town where nothing ever happens–until the day its complacency is shattered by an act of violence. Josie Cormier, the daughter of the judge sitting on the case, should be the state’s best witness, but she can’t remember what happened before her very own eyes–or can she? As the trial progresses, fault lines between the high school and the adult community begin to show–destroying the closest of friendships and families. Nineteen Minutes asks what it means to be different in our society, who has the right to judge someone else, and whether anyone is ever really who they seem to be.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – With his first foray into teen literature, acclaimed author Sherman Alexie packs a punch in this absorbing novel about a Native American boy searching for a brighter future. At once humorous and stirring, Alexie’s novel follows Junior, a resident of the Spokane reservation who transfers out of the reservation’s school — and into a nearby rich, all-white farm school — in order to nurture his desire to become a cartoonist. Junior encounters resistance there, a backlash at home, and numerous family problems — all the while relaying his thoughts and feelings via amusing descriptions and drawings. Having already garnered a National Book Award for Young Adult Literature, this moving look at race and growing up is definitely one to pick up.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniSet against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years, from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding, that puts the violence, fear, hope and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. This is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives, the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness, are inextricable from the history playing out around them. At once a remarkable chronicle of three decades of Afghan history and a deeply moving account of family and friendship, it is a striking, heart-wrenching novel of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love, a stunning accomplishment.

These four books among my favorites. Not only are they highly entertaining, but they’re packed with emotional punch, history, memorable characters, and countless teachable themes. Sure, each and every one would probably end up challenged (they’re all incredibly intense and deal with mature issues), but  that’s even more reason to highlight them and expose teenagers to them. The books on MY reading list are sure to open the doors to some important and weighty dialogue.

If you had the power to change high school curriculum, what books would be on YOUR reading list?


29 thoughts on “RTW: If I were head of curriculum…

  1. Gilly says:

    Great suggestions and kudos for picking a book by a non-Western author.

    I’d add something by Salman Rushie – either Satanic Verses or Midnight’s Children.

    I’d add The Namesake by Jumpa Lahiri because it does a beautiful job of depicting the experience of first generation Americans and the cultural divide.

    Some schools read The Things They Carried, but I’d make it required – as well as something about the current wars, not sure which. Military experience is such a fundamental part of our past and society.

    Oh, my – this is so fun! I could go on forever.

    • katyupperman says:

      The Things They Carried is an excellent choice! I read that for a university history class and thought it was excellent. I haven’t read the others you mentioned, but I’ll definitely be checking them out. Thanks!

  2. sarah says:

    Oh, this is a fabulous list! I would absolutely require Sherman Alexie—not only is it a fantastic book, it’s an unpretentious read, too, which I think kids really long for in HS.

  3. Jaime says:

    First, I have to agree with you about the classics. I’m a classic lover, so they stay put on my dream ‘required reading list’. I also had Nineteen Minutes on my list! Definitely, an important read.

    Great list, Katy 🙂

  4. Sara McClung says:

    That’s a pretty picture! And also? I LOVE 1984 and The Grapes of Wrath!!

    The Kite Runner broke my heart and I’ve been too scared to read A Thousand Splendid Suns! But if you rec it… I’m gonna read it. 🙂

  5. Rida says:

    I love all these books! (Even though I haven’t yet read most of them.) But if they were required reading in high school, I probably wouldn’t enjoy them as much 😦

    Well, who knows? Unpretentious books are always good to read, whether they’re required or not. Also, I’m reading The Kite Runner right now, so I’m glad to see ANOTHER person who thinks A Thousand Splendid Suns is amazing 🙂

  6. Rebecca B says:

    I haven’t read A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS or NINETEEN MINUTES: but now I want to! I picked Sherman Alexie for my list, and I would revise mine to include LOOKING FOR ALASKA. Great list!

  7. Angelica R. Jackson says:

    Looking for Alaska and Diary keep cropping up on lists–I have a feeling that when I finally get around to reading these, I’ll be slapping my forehead and saying, “Why didn’t I listen to everyone sooner?”

  8. commutinggirl says:

    Great list! I love how you put different type of stories and I thought “why didn´t I put The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns on mine, duh”. By the way, I now really want to read Nineteen Minutes (thanks for the suggestion :-))

  9. Kitty says:

    Once again, the dilemma of “so many books, so little time!” I am adding these to my “to read” list anyhow and someday I’ll get around to all of them. I have read Nineteen Minutes and A Thousand Splendid Suns – definitely agree with you there.

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